The third shark net trial for the five beaches across the north coast has been abandoned following the significant decline in support. During course of the two shark net trials, community support for nets halved, from 52 per cent to 26 per cent of Ballina residents.
The controversial shark nets were installed at Lighthouse, Sharpes and Shelly beaches at Ballina, as well as at Lennox Head and Evans Head over the summer of 2016 and 17.
Ballina’s Deputy Mayor Keith Williams, who has been leading the charge to rid Ballina of the dreaded nets for the last two years, is celebrating the news.
‘The final nail in the coffin was the news that the nets had killed twice as many dolphins as they had caught target sharks in the second trial,’ said Councillor Williams.
‘After that, even the staunchest supporters of nets realised that something was seriously wrong.’
Up to 35 SMART drumlines will continue to be trialled daily, from Lennox Head to Evans Head, weather permitting, until mid–2020 while trials of helicopter and drones for aerial surveillance, and VR4G listening stations would continue.
‘Two shark net trials have been conducted and while there were no shark attacks at netted beaches during both trials, a survey of the community found that the resulting by–catch of the trials was unacceptable,’ said Nationals parliamentary secretary for Northern NSW, Ben Franklin.
Minister can still install nets
While the trial has been suspended the NSW primary industries minister Niall Blair retains ‘the ability to deploy nets or issue authorisations for further trials on the North Coast if the he is of the opinion that shark activity has increased,’ Mr Franklin said.
The government has said that they will maintain their commitment to invest $16 million under the NSW government’s five year Shark Management Strategy and Ballina Councillor Williams hopes they will also direct the funds saved from the cancellation of the nets ‘towards the deployment of more rescue capable drones’.
‘We now have technology that can not only look out for sharks, but can help lifesavers respond to the much more likely threat of drowning.
’Twenty people died from drowning on North Coast beaches last summer. Let’s get more drones in the air capable of dropping floatation devices and reducing this terrible toll.’
Call for state–wide ban
NSW Greens Marine Spokesperson Justin Field has called for an end to shark nets across NSW following replacement of nets on North Coast beaches with SMART drumlines and other non-lethal shark management.
The recent Shark Meshing Program Annual Report showed shark nets deployed along the NSW coast from Wollongong to Newcastle caught and/or killed 403 marine creatures in 2017/18, including dolphins, rays and endangered turtles.
Mr Field urged the NSW Government to heed the evidence of its own data and replace shark nets with more effective, non-lethal management measures this summer.
‘The facts are in. We have ample evidence that the shark netting program in NSW is really a culling program and primarily it is culling rays and non-threatening sharks. Shark nets do little to improve beach safety but take a terrible toll on local marine life,’ he said.
‘NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair has listened to the evidence and abandoned the shark net program on North Coast beaches. Now he should do the same across the state and redirect those resources into more effective, non-lethal management of sharks.
‘The best long-term solution is to move away entirely from lethal options like shark nets to community based observers programs, better resourcing volunteer and professional life guarding services, drone surveillance technology and community awareness of the importance of healthy shark populations and how to avoid shark risks.
‘With the next season of the shark meshing program off Sydney beaches due to start in September, the NSW Government should leave the nets out of the water and engage with the community to put in place an alternative plan now,’ he said.